Blog Posts as Student Writing Assignments

During a recent email conversation with Jeff Nugent at Virginia Commonwealth University, Jeff pointed to a recent blog post of his about blogging. Jeff’s post pretty much sums up my feelings on the value of blogging as a reflective practice, and he includes a great two-minute video clip of Seth Godin and Tom Peters talking about the benefits of blogging. Jeff’s post also got me thinking about my first-year writing seminar and the opinion paper I’ve assigned my students.

I’m teaching a first-year writing seminar this fall for the first time and one of the items in the course that’s new to me is the first essay assignment. It’s a three-page opinion essay in which I ask my students to weigh in on one of three interesting questions related to the field of cryptography. The papers are due on Tuesday, and just yesterday I devoted the whole class session to peer review of a student’s first draft. (More on that clicker-facilitated experience in a future blog post!) Then I had several students stop by my office hours yesterday afternoon to get my feedback on their paper drafts.

All that to say, now that I’m in the thick of this opinion paper assignment, I really wish I had just made it a blogging assignment! Especially after reading Jeff’s post! As I’ve been consulting with students about their papers, I keep drawing on my own experiences blogging—crafting a good opening and a good closing to a post, being clear and engaging in my prose, thinking about my audience, and taking on an appropriate voice. That’s all stuff I do every time I blog, and those are the kinds of things I want my students to do in this assignment.

The artificiality of this assignment—the fact that I’m the only one who will read their work—has bugged me from the moment I put it on my syllabus. But now that I’m actually working with students on the assignment, I’m seeing that putting this assignment into the genre of a reflective blog post might have helped them conceptualize the assignment in more useful ways.

Next time…

Image: “/doh” by Flickr user striatic, Creative Commons licensed.

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